Meat & Livestock News

Enhancing Cattle Productivity with Phosphorus Supplementation

Farmer cattleman walking through domestic animals farm with tablet and observing cows.

Phosphorus (P) plays a crucial role in cattle nutrition, with its deficiency leading to significantly reduced productivity. This issue is particularly prevalent in northern Australia, where soil and pasture phosphorus deficiencies are widespread. The Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) has released an updated manual titled “Phosphorus Management of Beef Cattle in Northern Australia (Second Edition)”, providing evidence-based solutions and recommendations for addressing phosphorus deficiency in cattle.

The manual underscores that effective phosphorus supplementation can yield substantial productivity and profitability benefits for producers. A lack of dietary phosphorus hampers feed and energy intake, leading to lower growth and reproduction rates, even if the diet is adequate in energy and protein. This impact is especially pronounced in weaners and cows during late pregnancy or lactation.

In areas deficient in phosphorus, supplementing breeding and growing herds with phosphorus offers a return on investment within one to four years. This depends on the stock class and the severity of the deficiency. Supplementing on acutely phosphorus-deficient soils is profitable, particularly when combined with best practice herd and land management.

The greatest economic benefit is observed when phosphorus is fed during the wet (growing) season in phosphorus-deficient regions.

Despite the presence of abundant green grass, cattle suffering from phosphorus deficiency may not fully utilise the available energy and protein in the pasture during the growing season. Supplementing with phosphorus over the wet season on deficient lands can lead to significant improvements:

  • Young growing stock can experience up to 90kg of additional growth above base growth.
  • Breeders can see weaning rates increase by 10–30%.
  • Mature breeders can maintain a weight advantage of up to 100kg over un-supplemented cows.

The benefits of effective phosphorus supplementation extend to various aspects of beef enterprise profitability. These include reduced mortality rates, earlier and/or heavier cattle sales, improved body condition scores of breeders, increased milk production, higher weaner weights and pregnancy rates, a greater proportion of heifers reaching critical mating weights at a younger age, and cow weights up to 100kg/head heavier.

This comprehensive approach to phosphorus management, as outlined by the MLA, highlights the importance of addressing nutrient deficiencies to enhance the overall productivity and profitability of cattle farming in phosphorus-deficient regions.